Suffolk County Water Authority will receive more than $4 million from the federal government officials announced Wednesday, as a reimbursement for the costs of cleaning up toxic firefighting foam contaminants perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
For nearly 30 years the Department of Defense allowed the chemicals to leach into Long Island’s sole source aquifer by using the firefighting foam during training exercises at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach.
After initially promising to reimburse the Authority for the cost to build water treatment systems in 2016, The Department of Defense later reneged on that promise, prompting Senator Charles Schumer and other federal representatives to hold the DOD accountable.
“We moved heaven and Earth to pass specific legislation to allow the DOD to do the right thing here: pay the Suffolk County Water Authority for the money it spent dealing with the PFOS contamination mess that others made,” Schumer told reporters this week. “I’ve long said local taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for a mess they didn’t make, and now they won’t have to cover this $4 million worth."
Schumer also credited US Air Force leadership for their recent cooperation. Without the $4,022,731 in federal funding, SCWA ratepayers would have to fund the additional treatment systems.
“We were very optimistic that the feds would be held accountable and they acknowledged their desire to make the authority whole,” SCWA Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey W. Szabo said. “This really would not have happened without Schumer. That’s a very important fact that we want to relay to the customers and residents of Suffolk County.”
The funding is a part of the federal National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, expected to be paid out by October. The Air Force is expected to payout $20 million to local water authorities nationwide. The majority of SCWA’s portion will go towards the construction of granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment systems, which remove PFOS and PFOA from drinking water.
The Suffolk County Water Authority is an independent public-benefit corporation operating under the authority of the Public Authorities Law of the State of New York. Serving approximately 1.2 million Suffolk County residents, the Authority operates without taxing power on a not-for-profit basis.